Part 2 out of 7
"Well," said Chaudieu, as young Lecamus ended his speech, "this
boatman is La Renaudie. And here is Monsiegneur the Prince de Conde,"
he added, motioning to the deformed little man.
Thus these four men represented the faith of the people, the spirit of
the Scriptures, the mailed hand of the soldier, and royalty itself
hidden in that dark shadow of the bridge.
"You shall now know what we expect of you," resumed the minister,
after allowing a short pause for Christophe's astonishment. "In order
that you may make no mistake, we feel obliged to initiate you into the
most important secrets of the Reformation."
The prince and La Renaudie emphasized the minister's speech by a
gesture, the latter having paused to allow the prince to speak, if he
so wished. Like all great men engaged in plotting, whose system it is
to conceal their hand until the decisive moment, the prince kept
silence--but not from cowardice. In these crises he was always the
soul of the conspiracy; recoiling from no danger and ready to risk his
own head; but from a sort of royal dignity he left the explanation of
the enterprise to his minister, and contented himself with studying
the new instrument he was about to use.
"My child," said Chaudieu, in the Huguenot style of address, "we are
about to do battle for the first time with the Roman prostitute. In a
few days either our legions will be dying on the scaffold, or the
Guises will be dead. This is the first call to arms on behalf of our
religion in France, and France will not lay down those arms till they
have conquered. The question, mark you this, concerns the nation, not
the kingdom. The majority of the nobles of the kingdom see plainly
what the Cardinal de Lorraine and his brother are seeking. Under
pretext of defending the Catholic religion, the house of Lorraine
means to claim the crown of France as its patrimony. Relying on the
Church, it has made the Church a formidable ally; the monks are its
support, its acolytes, its spies. It has assumed the post of guardian
to the throne it is seeking to usurp; it protects the house of Valois
which it means to destroy. We have decided to take up arms because the
liberties of the people and the interests of the nobles are equally
threatened. Let us smother at its birth a faction as odious as that of
the Burgundians who formerly put Paris and all France to fire and
sword. It required a Louis XI. to put a stop to the quarrel between
the Burgundians and the Crown; and to-day a prince de Conde is needed
to prevent the house of Lorraine from re-attempting that struggle.
This is not a civil war; it is a duel between the Guises and the
Reformation,--a duel to the death! We will make their heads fall, or
they shall have ours."
"Well said!" cried the prince.
"In this crisis, Christophe," said La Renaudie, "we mean to neglect
nothing which shall strengthen our party,--for there is a party in the
Reformation, the party of thwarted interests, of nobles sacrificed to
the Lorrains, of old captains shamefully treated at Fontainebleau,
from which the cardinal has banished them by setting up gibbets on
which to hang those who ask the king for the cost of their equipment
and their back-pay."
"This, my child," resumed Chaudieu, observing a sort of terror in
Christophe, "this it is which compels us to conquer by arms instead of
conquering by conviction and by martyrdom. The queen-mother is on the
point of entering into our views. Not that she means to abjure; she
has not reached that decision as yet; but she may be forced to it by
our triumph. However that may be, Queen Catherine, humiliated and in
despair at seeing the power she expected to wield on the death of the
king passing into the hands of the Guises, alarmed at the empire of
the young queen, Mary, niece of the Lorrains and their auxiliary,
Queen Catherine is doubtless inclined to lend her support to the
princes and lords who are now about to make an attempt which will
deliver her from the Guises. At this moment, devoted as she may seem
to them, she hates them; she desires their overthrow, and will try to
make use of us against them; but Monseigneur the Prince de Conde
intends to make use of her against all. The queen-mother will,
undoubtedly, consent to all our plans. We shall have the Connetable on
our side; Monseigneur has just been to see him at Chantilly; but he
does not wish to move without an order from his masters. Being the
uncle of Monseigneur, he will not leave him in the lurch; and this
generous prince does not hesitate to fling himself into danger to
force Anne de Montmorency to a decision. All is prepared, and we have
cast our eyes on you as the means of communicating to Queen Catherine
our treaty of alliance, the drafts of edicts, and the bases of the new
government. The court is at Blois. Many of our friends are with it;
but they are to be our future chiefs, and, like Monseigneur," he
added, motioning to the prince, "they must not be suspected. The
queen-mother and our friends are so closely watched that it is
impossible to employ as intermediary any known person of importance;
they would instantly be suspected and kept from communicating with
Madame Catherine. God sends us at this crisis the shepherd David and
his sling to do battle with Goliath of Guise. Your father,
unfortunately for him a good Catholic, is furrier to the two queens.
He is constantly supplying them with garments. Get him to send you on
some errand to the court. You will excite no suspicion, and you cannot
compromise Queen Catherine in any way. All our leaders would lose
their heads if a single imprudent act allowed their connivance with
the queen-mother to be seen. Where a great lord, if discovered, would
give the alarm and destroy our chances, an insignificant man like you
will pass unnoticed. See! The Guises keep the town so full of spies
that we have only the river where we can talk without fear. You are
now, my son, like a sentinel who must die at his post. Remember this:
if you are discovered, we shall all abandon you; we shall even cast,
if necessary, opprobrium and infamy upon you. We shall say that you
are a creature of the Guises, made to play this part to ruin us. You
see therefore that we ask of you a total sacrifice."
"If you perish," said the Prince de Conde, "I pledge my honor as a
noble that your family shall be sacred for the house of Navarre; I
will bear it on my heart and serve it in all things."
"Those words, my prince, suffice," replied Christophe, without
reflecting that the conspirator was a Gascon. "We live in times when
each man, prince or burgher, must do his duty."
"There speaks the true Huguenot. If all our men were like that," said
La Renaudie, laying his hand on Christophe's shoulder, "we should be
"Young man," resumed the prince, "I desire to show you that if
Chaudieu preaches, if the nobleman goes armed, the prince fights.
Therefore, in this hot game all stakes are played."
"Now listen to me," said La Renaudie. "I will not give you the papers
until you reach Beaugency; for they must not be risked during the
whole of your journey. You will find me waiting for you there on the
wharf; my face, voice, and clothes will be so changed you cannot
recognize me, but I shall say to you, 'Are you a /guepin/?' and you
will answer, 'Ready to serve.' As to the performance of your mission,
these are the means: You will find a horse at the 'Pinte Fleurie,"
close to Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois. You will there ask for Jean le
Breton, who will take you to the stable and give you one of my ponies
which is known to do thirty leagues in eight hours. Leave by the gate
of Bussy. Breton has a pass for me; use it yourself, and make your way
by skirting the towns. You can thus reach Orleans by daybreak."
"But the horse?" said young Lecamus.
"He will not give out till you reach Orleans," replied La Renaudie.
"Leave him at the entrance of the faubourg Bannier; for the gates are
well guarded, and you must not excite suspicion. It is for you,
friend, to play your part intelligently. You must invent whatever
fable seems to you best to reach the third house to the left on
entering Orleans; it belongs to a certain Tourillon, glove-maker.
Strike three blows on the door, and call out: 'On service from
Messieurs de Guise!' The man will appear to be a rabid Guisist; no one
knows but our four selves that he is one of us. He will give you a
faithful boatman,--another Guisist of his own cut. Go down at once to
the wharf, and embark in a boat painted green and edged with white.
You will doubtless land at Beaugency to-morrow about mid-day. There I
will arrange to find you a boat which will take you to Blois without
running any risk. Our enemies the Guises do not watch the rivers, only
the landings. Thus you will be able to see the queen-mother to-morrow
or the day after."
"Your words are written there," said Christophe, touching his
Chaudieu embraced his child with singular religious effusion; he was
proud of him.
"God keep thee!" he said, pointing to the ruddy light of the sinking
sun, which was touching the old roofs covered with shingles and
sending its gleams slantwise through the forest of piles among which
the water was rippling.
"You belong to the race of the Jacques Bonhomme," said La Renaudie,
pressing Christophe's hand.
"We shall meet again, /monsieur/," said the prince, with a gesture of
infinite grace, in which there was something that seemed almost
With a stroke of his oars La Renaudie put the boat at the lower step
of the stairway which led to the house. Christophe landed, and the
boat disappeared instantly beneath the arches of the pont au Change.
Christophe shook the iron railing which closed the stairway on the
river, and called. His mother heard him, opened one of the windows of
the back shop, and asked what he was doing there. Christophe answered
that he was cold and wanted to get in.
"Ha! my master," said the Burgundian maid, "you went out by the
street-door, and you return by the water-gate. Your father will be
fine and angry."
Christophe, bewildered by a confidence which had just brought him into
communication with the Prince de Conde, La Renaudie, and Chaudieu, and
still more moved at the prospect of impending civil war, made no
answer; he ran hastily up from the kitchen to the back shop; but his
mother, a rabid Catholic, could not control her anger.
"I'll wager those three men I saw you talking with are Ref--"
"Hold your tongue, wife!" said the cautious old man with white hair
who was turning over a thick ledger. "You dawdling fellows," he went
on, addressing three journeymen, who had long finished their suppers,
"why don't you go to bed? It is eight o'clock, and you have to be up
at five; besides, you must carry home to-night President de Thou's cap
and mantle. All three of you had better go, and take your sticks and
rapiers; and then, if you meet scamps like yourselves, at least you'll
be in force."
"Are we going to take the ermine surcoat the young queen has ordered
to be sent to the hotel des Soissons? there's an express going from
there to Blois for the queen-mother," said one of the clerks.
"No," said his master, "the queen-mother's bill amounts to three
thousand crowns; it is time to get the money, and I am going to Blois
myself very soon."
"Father, I do not think it right at your age and in these dangerous
times to expose yourself on the high-roads. I am twenty-two years old,
and you ought to employ me on such errands," said Christophe, eyeing
the box which he supposed contained the surcoat.
"Are you glued to your seats?" cried the old man to his apprentices,
who at once jumped up and seized their rapiers, cloaks, and Monsieur
de Thou's furs.
The next day the Parliament was to receive in state, as its president,
this illustrious judge, who, after signing the death warrant of
Councillor du Bourg, was destined before the close of the year to sit
in judgment on the Prince de Conde!
"Here!" said the old man, calling to the maid, "go and ask friend
Lallier if he will come and sup with us and bring the wine; we'll
furnish the victuals. Tell him, above all, to bring his daughter."
Lecamus, the syndic of the guild of furriers, was a handsome old man
of sixty, with white hair, and a broad, open brow. As court furrier
for the last forty years, he had witnessed all the revolutions of the
reign of Francois I. He had seen the arrival at the French court of
the young girl Catherine de' Medici, then scarcely fifteen years of
age. He had observed her giving way before the Duchesse d'Etampes, her
father-in-law's mistress; giving way before the Duchesse de
Valentinois, the mistress of her husband the late king. But the
furrier had brought himself safely through all the chances and changes
by which court merchants were often involved in the disgrace and
overthrow of mistresses. His caution led to his good luck. He
maintained an attitude of extreme humility. Pride had never caught him
in its toils. He made himself so small, so gentle, so compliant, of so
little account at court and before the queens and princesses and
favorites, that this modesty, combined with good-humor, had kept the
royal sign above his door.
Such a policy was, of course, indicative of a shrewd and perspicacious
mind. Humble as Lecamus seemed to the outer world, he was despotic in
his own home; there he was an autocrat. Most respected and honored by
his brother craftsmen, he owed to his long possession of the first
place in the trade much of the consideration that was shown to him. He
was, besides, very willing to do kindnesses to others, and among the
many services he had rendered, none was more striking than the
assistance he had long given to the greatest surgeon of the sixteenth
century, Ambroise Pare, who owed to him the possibility of studying
for his profession. In all the difficulties which came up among the
merchants Lecamus was always conciliating. Thus a general good opinion
of him consolidated his position among his equals; while his borrowed
characteristics kept him steadily in favor with the court.
Not only this, but having intrigued for the honor of being on the
vestry of his parish church, he did what was necessary to bring him
into the odor of sanctity with the rector of Saint-Pierre aux Boeufs,
who looked upon him as one of the men most devoted to the Catholic
religion in Paris. Consequently, at the time of the convocation of the
States-General he was unanimously elected to represent the /tiers
etat/ through the influence of the clergy of Paris,--an influence
which at that period was immense. This old man was, in short, one of
those secretly ambitious souls who will bend for fifty years before
all the world, gliding from office to office, no one exactly knowing
how it came about that he was found securely and peacefully seated at
last where no man, even the boldest, would have had the ambition at
the beginning of life to fancy himself; so great was the distance, so
many the gulfs and the precipices to cross! Lecamus, who had immense
concealed wealth, would not run any risks, and was silently preparing
a brilliant future for his son. Instead of having the personal
ambition which sacrifices the future to the present, he had family
ambition,--a lost sentiment in our time, a sentiment suppressed by the
folly of our laws of inheritance. Lecamus saw himself first president
of the Parliament of Paris in the person of his grandson.
Christophe, godson of the famous historian de Thou, was given a most
solid education; but it had led him to doubt and to the spirit of
examination which was then affecting both the Faculties and the
students of the universities. Christophe was, at the period of which
we are now writing, pursuing his studies for the bar, that first step
toward the magistracy. The old furrier was pretending to some
hesitation as to his son. Sometimes he seemed to wish to make
Christophe his successor; then again he spoke of him as a lawyer; but
in his heart he was ambitious of a place for this son as Councillor of
the Parliament. He wanted to put the Lecamus family on a level with
those old and celebrated burgher families from which came the
Pasquiers, the Moles, the Mirons, the Seguiers, Lamoignon, du Tillet,
Lecoigneux, Lescalopier, Goix, Arnauld, those famous sheriffs and
grand-provosts of the merchants, among whom the throne found such
Therefore, in order that Christophe might in due course of time
maintain his rank, he wished to marry him to the daughter of the
richest jeweller in the city, his friend Lallier, whose nephew was
destined to present to Henri IV. the keys of Paris. The strongest
desire rooted in the heart of the worthy burgher was to use half of
his fortune and half of that of the jeweller in the purchase of a
large and beautiful seignorial estate, which, in those days, was a
long and very difficult affair. But his shrewd mind knew the age in
which he lived too well to be ignorant of the great movements which
were now in preparation. He saw clearly, and he saw justly, and knew
that the kingdom was about to be divided into two camps. The useless
executions in the Place de l'Estrapade, that of the king's tailor and
the more recent one of the Councillor Anne du Bourg, the actual
connivance of the great lords, and that of the favorite of Francois I.
with the Reformers, were terrible indications. The furrier resolved to
remain, whatever happened, Catholic, royalist, and parliamentarian;
but it suited him, privately, that Christophe should belong to the
Reformation. He knew he was rich enough to ransom his son if
Christophe was too much compromised; and on the other hand if France
became Calvinist his son could save the family in the event of one of
those furious Parisian riots, the memory of which was ever-living with
the bourgeoisie,--riots they were destined to see renewed through four
But these thoughts the old furrier, like Louis XI., did not even say
to himself; his wariness went so far as to deceive his wife and son.
This grave personage had long been the chief man of the richest and
most populous quarter of Paris, that of the centre, under the title of
/quartenier/,--the title and office which became so celebrated some
fifteen months later. Clothed in cloth like all the prudent burghers
who obeyed the sumptuary laws, Sieur Lecamus (he was tenacious of that
title which Charles V. granted to the burghers of Paris, permitting
them also to buy baronial estates and call their wives by the fine
name of /demoiselle/, but not by that of madame) wore neither gold
chains nor silk, but always a good doublet with large tarnished silver
buttons, cloth gaiters mounting to the knee, and leather shoes with
clasps. His shirt, of fine linen, showed, according to the fashion of
the time, in great puffs between his half-opened jacket and his
breeches. Though his large and handsome face received the full light
of the lamp standing on the table, Christophe had no conception of the
thoughts which lay buried beneath the rich and florid Dutch skin of
the old man; but he understood well enough the advantage he himself
had expected to obtain from his affection for pretty Babette Lallier.
So Christophe, with the air of a man who had come to a decision,
smiled bitterly as he heard of the invitation to his promised bride.
When the Burgundian cook and the apprentices had departed on their
several errands, old Lecamus looked at his wife with a glance which
showed the firmness and resolution of his character.
"You will not be satisfied till you have got that boy hanged with your
damned tongue," he said, in a stern voice.
"I would rather see him hanged and saved than living and a Huguenot,"
she answered, gloomily. "To think that a child whom I carried nine
months in my womb should be a bad Catholic, and be doomed to hell for
She began to weep.
"Old silly," said the furrier; "let him live, if only to convert him.
You said, before the apprentices, a word which may set fire to our
house, and roast us all, like fleas in a straw bed."
The mother crossed herself, and sat down silently.
"Now, then, you," said the old man, with a judicial glance at his son,
"explain to me what you were doing on the river with--come closer,
that I may speak to you," he added, grasping his son by the arm, and
drawing him to him--"with the Prince de Conde," he whispered.
Christophe trembled. "Do you suppose the court furrier does not know
every face that frequents the palace? Think you I am ignorant of what
is going on? Monseigneur the Grand Master has been giving orders to
send troops to Amboise. Withdrawing troops from Paris to send them to
Amboise when the king is at Blois, and making them march through
Chartres and Vendome, instead of going by Orleans--isn't the meaning
of that clear enough? There'll be troubles. If the queens want their
surcoats, they must send for them. The Prince de Conde has perhaps
made up his mind to kill Messieurs de Guise; who, on their side,
expect to rid themselves of him. The prince will use the Huguenots to
protect himself. Why should the son of a furrier get himself into that
fray? When you are married, and when you are councillor to the
Parliament, you will be as prudent as your father. Before belonging to
the new religion, the son of a furrier ought to wait until the rest of
the world belongs to it. I don't condemn the Reformers; it is not my
business to do so; but the court is Catholic, the two queens are
Catholic, the Parliament is Catholic; we must supply them with furs,
and therefore we must be Catholic ourselves. You shall not go out from
here, Christophe; if you do, I will send you to your godfather,
President de Thou, who will keep you night and day blackening paper,
instead of blackening your soul in company with those damned
"Father," said Christophe, leaning upon the back of the old man's
chair, "send me to Blois to carry that surcoat to Queen Mary and get
our money from the queen-mother. If you do not, I am lost; and you
care for your son."
"Lost?" repeated the old man, without showing the least surprise. "If
you stay here you can't be lost; I shall have my eye on you all the
"They will kill me here."
"The most powerful among the Huguenots have cast their eyes on me to
serve them in a certain matter; if I fail to do what I have just
promised to do, they will kill me in open day, here in the street, as
they killed Minard. But if you send me to court on your affairs,
perhaps I can justify myself equally well to both sides. Either I
shall succeed without having run any danger at all, and shall then win
a fine position in the party; or, if the danger turns out very great,
I shall be there simply on your business."
The father rose as if his chair was of red-hot iron.
"Wife," he said, "leave us; and watch that we are left quite alone,
Christophe and I."
When Mademoiselle Lecamus had left them the furrier took his son by a
button and led him to the corner of the room which made the angle of
"Christophe," he said, whispering in his ear as he had done when he
mentioned the name of the Prince of Conde, "be a Huguenot, if you have
that vice; but be so cautiously, in the depths of your soul, and not
in a way to be pointed at as a heretic throughout the quarter. What
you have just confessed to me shows that the leaders have confidence
in you. What are you going to do for them at court?"
"I cannot tell you that," replied Christophe; "for I do not know
"Hum! hum!" muttered the old man, looking at his son, "the scamp means
to hoodwink his father; he'll go far. You are not going to court," he
went on in a low tone, "to carry remittances to Messieurs de Guise or
to the little king our master, or to the little Queen Marie. All those
hearts are Catholic; but I would take my oath the Italian woman has
some spite against the Scotch girl and against the Lorrains. I know
her. She has a desperate desire to put her hand into the dough. The
late king was so afraid of her that he did as the jewellers do, he cut
diamond by diamond, he pitted one woman against another. That caused
Queen Catherine's hatred to the poor Duchesse de Valentinois, from
whom she took the beautiful chateau of Chenonceaux. If it hadn't been
for the Connetable, the duchess might have been strangled. Back, back,
my son; don't put yourself in the hands of that Italian, who has no
passion except in her brain; and that's a bad kind of woman! Yes, what
they are sending you to do at court may give you a very bad headache,"
cried the father, seeing that Christophe was about to reply. "My son,
I have plans for your future which you will not upset by making
yourself useful to Queen Catherine; but, heavens and earth! don't risk
your head. Messieurs de Guise would cut it off as easily as the
Burgundian cuts a turnip, and then those persons who are now employing
you will disown you utterly."
"I know that, father," said Christophe.
"What! are you really so strong, my son? You know it, and are willing
to risk all?"
"By the powers above us!" cried the father, pressing his son in his
arms, "we can understand each other; you are worthy of your father. My
child, you'll be the honor of the family, and I see that your old
father can speak plainly with you. But do not be more Huguenot than
Messieurs de Coligny. Never draw your sword; be a pen man; keep to
your future role of lawyer. Now, then, tell me nothing until after you
have succeeded. If I do not hear from you by the fourth day after you
reach Blois, that silence will tell me that you are in some danger.
The old man will go to save the young one. I have not sold furs for
thirty-two years without a good knowledge of the wrong side of court
robes. I have the means of making my way through many doors."
Christophe opened his eyes very wide as he heard his father talking
thus; but he thought there might be some parental trap in it, and he
made no reply further than to say:--
"Well, make out the bill, and write a letter to the queen; I must
start at once, or the greatest misfortunes may happen."
"I shall buy a horse. Write at once, in God's name."
"Hey! mother! give your son some money," cried the furrier to his
The mother returned, went to her chest, took out a purse of gold, and
gave it to Christophe, who kissed her with emotion.
"The bill was all ready," said his father; "here it is. I will write
the letter at once."
Christophe took the bill and put it in his pocket.
"But you will sup with us, at any rate," said the old man. "In such a
crisis you ought to exchange rings with Lallier's daughter."
"Very well, I will go and fetch her," said Christophe.
The young man was distrustful of his father's stability in the matter.
The old man's character was not yet fully known to him. He ran up to
his room, dressed himself, took a valise, came downstairs softly and
laid it on a counter in the shop, together with his rapier and cloak.
"What the devil are you doing?" asked his father, hearing him.
Christophe came up to the old man and kissed him on both cheeks.
"I don't want any one to see my preparations for departure, and I have
put them on a counter in the shop," he whispered.
"Here is the letter," said his father.
Christophe took the paper and went out as if to fetch his young
A few moments after his departure the goodman Lallier and his daughter
arrived, preceded by a servant-woman, bearing three bottles of old
"Well, where is Christophe?" said old Lecamus.
"Christophe!" exclaimed Babette. "We have not seen him."
"Ha! ha! my son is a bold scamp! He tricks me as if I had no beard. My
dear crony, what think you he will turn out to be? We live in days
when the children have more sense than their fathers."
"Why, the quarter has long been saying he is in some mischief," said
"Excuse him on that point, crony," said the furrier. "Youth is
foolish; it runs after new things; but Babette will keep him quiet;
she is newer than Calvin."
Babette smiled; she loved Christophe, and was angry when anything was
said against him. She was one of those daughters of the old
bourgeoisie brought up under the eyes of a mother who never left her.
Her bearing was gentle and correct as her face; she always wore
woollen stuffs of gray, harmonious in tone; her chemisette, simply
pleated, contrasted its whiteness against the gown. Her cap of brown
velvet was like an infant's coif, but it was trimmed with a ruche and
lappets of tanned gauze, that is, of a tan color, which came down on
each side of her face. Though fair and white as a true blonde, she
seemed to be shrewd and roguish, all the while trying to hide her
roguishness under the air and manner of a well-trained girl. While the
two servant-women went and came, laying the cloth and placing the
jugs, the great pewter dishes, and the knives and forks, the jeweller
and his daughter, the furrier and his wife, sat before the tall
chimney-piece draped with lambrequins of red serge and black fringes,
and were talking of trifles. Babette asked once or twice where
Christophe could be, and the father and mother of the young Huguenot
gave evasive answers; but when the two families were seated at table,
and the two servants had retired to the kitchen, Lecamus said to his
"Christophe has gone to court."
"To Blois! Such a journey as that without bidding me good-bye!" she
"The matter was pressing," said the old mother.
"Crony," said the furrier, resuming a suspended conversation. "We are
going to have troublous times in France. The Reformers are bestirring
"If they triumph, it will only be after a long war, during which
business will be at a standstill," said Lallier, incapable of rising
higher than the commercial sphere.
"My father, who saw the wars between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs
told me that our family would never have come out safely if one of his
grandfathers--his mother's father--had not been a Goix, one of those
famous butchers in the Market who stood by the Burgundians; whereas
the other, the Lecamus, was for the Armagnacs; they seemed ready to
flay each other alive before the world, but they were excellent
friends in the family. So, let us both try to save Christophe; perhaps
the time may come when he will save us."
"You are a shrewd one," said the jeweller.
"No," replied Lecamus. "The burghers ought to think of themselves; the
populace and the nobility are both against them. The Parisian
bourgeoisie alarms everybody except the king, who knows it is his
"You who are so wise and have seen so many things," said Babette,
timidly, "explain to me what the Reformers really want."
"Yes, tell us that, crony," cried the jeweller. "I knew the late
king's tailor, and I held him to be a man of simple life, without
great talent; he was something like you; a man to whom they'd give the
sacrament without confession; and behold! he plunged to the depths of
this new religion,--he! a man whose two ears were worth all of a
hundred thousand crowns apiece. He must have had secrets to reveal to
induce the king and the Duchesse de Valentinois to be present at his
"And terrible secrets, too!" said the furrier. "The Reformation, my
friends," he continued in a low voice, "will give back to the
bourgeoisie the estates of the Church. When the ecclesiastical
privileges are suppressed the Reformers intend to ask that the
/vilain/ shall be imposed on nobles as well as on burghers, and they
mean to insist that the king alone shall be above others--if indeed,
they allow the State to have a king."
"Suppress the Throne!" ejaculated Lallier.
"Hey! crony," said Lecamus, "in the Low Countries the burghers govern
themselves with burgomasters of their own, who elect their own
"God bless me, crony; we ought to do these fine things and yet stay
Catholics," cried the jeweller.
"We are too old, you and I, to see the triumph of the Parisian
bourgeoisie, but it will triumph, I tell you, in times to come as it
did of yore. Ha! the king must rest upon it in order to resist, and we
have always sold him our help dear. The last time, all the burghers
were ennobled, and he gave them permission to buy seignorial estates
and take titles from the land without special letters from the king.
You and I, grandsons of the Goix through our mothers, are not we as
good as any lord?"
These words were so alarming to the jeweller and the two women that
they were followed by a dead silence. The ferments of 1789 were
already tingling in the veins of Lecamus, who was not yet so old but
what he could live to see the bold burghers of the Ligue.
"Are you selling well in spite of these troubles?" said Lallier to
"Troubles always do harm," she replied.
"That's one reason why I am so set on making my son a lawyer," said
Lecamus; "for squabbles and law go on forever."
The conversation then turned to commonplace topics, to the great
satisfaction of the jeweller, who was not fond of either political
troubles or audacity of thought.
THE CHATEAU DE BLOIS
The banks of the Loire, from Blois to Angers, were the favorite resort
of the last two branches of the royal race which occupied the throne
before the house of Bourbon. That beautiful valley plain so well
deserves the honor bestowed upon it by kings that we must here repeat
what was said of it by one of our most eloquent writers:--
"There is one province in France which is never sufficiently
admired. Fragrant as Italy, flowery as the banks of the
Guadalquivir, beautiful especially in its own characteristics,
wholly French, having always been French,--unlike in that respect
to our northern provinces, which have degenerated by contact with
Germany, and to our southern provinces, which have lived in
concubinage with Moors, Spaniards, and all other nationalities
that adjoined them. This pure, chaste, brave, and loyal province
is Touraine. Historic France is there! Auvergne is Auvergne,
Languedoc is only Languedoc; but Touraine is France; the most
national river for Frenchmen is the Loire, which waters Touraine.
For this reason we ought not to be surprised at the great number
of historically noble buildings possessed by those departments
which have taken the name, or derivations of the name, of the
Loire. At every step we take in this land of enchantment we
discover a new picture, bordered, it may be, by a river, or a
tranquil lake reflecting in its liquid depths a castle with
towers, and woods and sparkling waterfalls. It is quite natural
that in a region chosen by Royalty for its sojourn, where the
court was long established, great families and fortunes and
distinguished men should have settled and built palaces as grand
But is it not incomprehensible that Royalty did not follow the advice
indirectly given by Louis XI. to place the capital of the kingdom at
Tours? There, without great expense, the Loire might have been made
accessible for the merchant service, and also for vessels-of-war of
light draught. There, too, the seat of government would have been safe
from the dangers of invasion. Had this been done, the northern cities
would not have required such vast sums of money spent to fortify them,
--sums as vast as were those expended on the sumptuous glories of
Versailles. If Louis XIV. had listened to Vauban, who wished to build
his great palace at Mont Louis, between the Loire and the Cher,
perhaps the revolution of 1789 might never have taken place.
These beautiful shores still bear the marks of royal tenderness. The
chateaus of Chambord, Amboise, Blois, Chenonceaux, Chaumont,
Plessis-les-Tours, all those which the mistresses of kings, financiers,
and nobles built at Veretz, Azay-le-Rideau, Usse, Villandri, Valencay,
Chanteloup, Duretal, some of which have disappeared, though most of
them still remain, are admirable relics which remind us of the marvels
of a period that is little understood by the literary sect of the
Among all these chateaus, that of Blois, where the court was then
staying, is one on which the magnificence of the houses of Orleans and
of Valois has placed its brilliant sign-manual,--making it the most
interesting of all for historians, archaeologists, and Catholics. It
was at the time of which we write completely isolated. The town,
enclosed by massive walls supported by towers, lay below the
fortress,--for the chateau served, in fact, as fort and
pleasure-house. Above the town, with its blue-tiled, crowded roofs
extending then, as now, from the river to the crest of the hill which
commands the right bank, lies a triangular plateau, bounded to the
west by a streamlet, which in these days is of no importance, for it
flows beneath the town; but in the fifteenth century, so say
historians, it formed quite a deep ravine, of which there still
remains a sunken road, almost an abyss, between the suburbs of the
town and the chateau.
It was on this plateau, with a double exposure to the north and south,
that the counts of Blois built, in the architecture of the twelfth
century, a castle where the famous Thibault de Tircheur, Thibault le
Vieux, and others held a celebrated court. In those days of pure
fuedality, in which the king was merely /primus inter pares/ (to use
the fine expression of a king of Poland), the counts of Champagne, the
counts of Blois, those of Anjou, the simple barons of Normandie, the
dukes of Bretagne, lived with the splendor of sovereign princes and
gave kings to the proudest kingdoms. The Plantagenets of Anjou, the
Lusignans of Poitou, the Roberts of Normandie, maintained with a bold
hand the royal races, and sometimes simple knights like du Glaicquin
refused the purple, preferring the sword of a connetable.
When the Crown annexed the county of Blois to its domain, Louis XII.,
who had a liking for this residence (perhaps to escape Plessis of
sinister memory), built at the back of the first building another
building, facing east and west, which connected the chateau of the
counts of Blois with the rest of the old structures, of which nothing
now remains but the vast hall in which the States-general were held
under Henri III.
Before he became enamoured of Chambord, Francois I. wished to complete
the chateau of Blois by adding two other wings, which would have made
the structure a perfect square. But Chambord weaned him from Blois,
where he built only one wing, which in his time and that of his
grandchildren was the only inhabited part of the chateau. This third
building erected by Francois I. is more vast and far more decorated
than the Louvre, the chateau of Henri II. It is in the style of
architecture now called Renaissance, and presents the most fantastic
features of that style. Therefore, at a period when a strict and
jealous architecture ruled construction, when the Middle Ages were not
even considered, at a time when literature was not as clearly welded
to art as it is now, La Fontaine said of the chateau de Blois, in his
hearty, good-humored way: "The part that Francois I. built, if looked
at from the outside, pleased me better than all the rest; there I saw
numbers of little galleries, little windows, little balconies, little
ornamentations without order or regularity, and they make up a grand
whole which I like."
The chateau of Blois had, therefore, the merit of representing three
orders of architecture, three epochs, three systems, three dominions.
Perhaps there is no other royal residence that can compare with it in
that respect. This immense structure presents to the eye in one
enclosure, round one courtyard, a complete and perfect image of that
grand presentation of the manners and customs and life of nations
which is called Architecture. At the moment when Christophe was to
visit the court, that part of the adjacent land which in our day is
covered by a fourth palace, built seventy years later (by Gaston, the
rebellious brother of Louis XIII., then exiled to Blois), was an open
space containing pleasure-grounds and hanging gardens, picturesquely
placed among the battlements and unfinished turrets of Francois I.'s
These gardens communicated, by a bridge of a fine, bold construction
(which the old men of Blois may still remember to have seen
demolished) with a pleasure-ground on the other side of the chateau,
which, by the lay of the land, was on the same level. The nobles
attached to the Court of Anne de Bretagne, or those of that province
who came to solicit favors, or to confer with the queen as to the fate
and condition of Brittany, awaited in this pleasure-ground the
opportunity for an audience, either at the queen's rising, or at her
coming out to walk. Consequently, history has given the name of
"Perchoir aux Bretons" to this piece of ground, which, in our day, is
the fruit-garden of a worthy bourgeois, and forms a projection into
the place des Jesuites. The latter place was included in the gardens
of this beautiful royal residence, which had, as we have said, its
upper and its lower gardens. Not far from the place des Jesuites may
still be seen a pavilion built by Catherine de' Medici, where,
according to the historians of Blois, warm mineral baths were placed
for her to use. This detail enables us to trace the very irregular
disposition of the gardens, which went up or down according to the
undulations of the ground, becoming extremely intricate around the
chateau,--a fact which helped to give it strength, and caused, as we
shall see, the discomfiture of the Duc de Guise.
The gardens were reached from the chateau through external and
internal galleries, the most important of which was called the
"Galerie des Cerfs" on account of its decoration. This gallery led to
the magnificent staircase which, no doubt, inspired the famous double
staircase of Chambord. It led, from floor to floor, to all the
apartments of the castle.
Though La Fontaine preferred the chateau of Francois I. to that of
Louis XII., perhaps the naivete of that of the good king will give
true artists more pleasure, while at the same time they admire the
magnificent structure of the knightly king. The elegance of the two
staircases which are placed at each end of the chateau of Louis XII.,
the delicate carving and sculpture, so original in design, which
abound everywhere, the remains of which, though time has done its
worst, still charm the antiquary, all, even to the semi-cloistral
distribution of the apartments, reveals a great simplicity of manners.
Evidently, the /court/ did not yet exist; it had not developed, as it
did under Francois I. and Catherine de' Medici, to the great detriment
of feudal customs. As we admire the galleries, or most of them, the
capitals of the columns, and certain figurines of exquisite delicacy,
it is impossible not to imagine that Michel Columb, that great
sculptor, the Michel-Angelo of Brittany, passed that way for the
pleasure of Queen Anne, whom he afterwards immortalized on the tomb of
her father, the last duke of Brittany.
Whatever La Fontaine may choose to say about the "little galleries"
and the "little ornamentations," nothing can be more grandiose than
the dwelling of the splendid Francois. Thanks to I know not what
indifference, to forgetfulness perhaps, the apartments occupied by
Catherine de' Medici and her son Francois II. present to us to-day the
leading features of that time. The historian can there restore the
tragic scenes of the drama of the Reformation,--a drama in which the
dual struggle of the Guises and of the Bourbons against the Valois was
a series of most complicated acts, the plot of which was here
The chateau of Francois I. completely crushes the artless habitation
of Louis XII. by its imposing masses. On the side of the gardens, that
is, toward the modern place des Jesuites, the castle presents an
elevation nearly double that which it shows on the side of the
courtyard. The ground-floor on this side forms the second floor on the
side of the gardens, where are placed the celebrated galleries. Thus
the first floor above the ground-floor toward the courtyard (where
Queen Catherine was lodged) is the third floor on the garden side, and
the king's apartments were four storeys above the garden, which at the
time of which we write was separated from the base of the castle by a
deep moat. The chateau, already colossal as viewed from the courtyard,
appears gigantic when seen from below, as La Fontaine saw it. He
mentions particularly that he did not enter either the courtyard or
the apartments, and it is to be remarked that from the place des
Jesuites all the details seem small. The balconies on which the
courtiers promenaded; the galleries, marvellously executed; the
sculptured windows, whose embrasures are so deep as to form boudoirs
--for which indeed they served--resemble at that great height the
fantastic decorations which scene-painters give to a fairy palace at
But in the courtyard, although the three storeys above the
ground-floor rise as high as the clock-tower of the Tuileries, the
infinite delicacy of the architecture reveals itself to the rapture of
our astonished eyes. This wing of the great building, in which the two
queens, Catherine de' Medici and Mary Stuart, held their sumptuous
court, is divided in the centre by a hexagon tower, in the empty well
of which winds up a spiral staircase,--a Moorish caprice, designed by
giants, made by dwarfs, which gives to this wonderful facade the
effect of a dream. The baluster of this staircase forms a spiral
connecting itself by a square landing to five of the six sides of the
tower, requiring at each landing transversal corbels which are
decorated with arabesque carvings without and within. This bewildering
creation of ingenious and delicate details, of marvels which give
speech to stones, can be compared only to the deeply worked and
crowded carving of the Chinese ivories. Stone is made to look like
lace-work. The flowers, the figures of men and animals clinging to the
structure of the stairway, are multiplied, step by step, until they
crown the tower with a key-stone on which the chisels of the art of
the sixteenth century have contended against the naive cutters of
images who fifty years earlier had carved the key-stones of Louis
XII.'s two stairways.
However dazzled we may be by these recurring forms of indefatigable
labor, we cannot fail to see that money was lacking to Francois I. for
Blois, as it was to Louis XIV. for Versailles. More than one figurine
lifts its delicate head from a block of rough stone behind it; more
than one fantastic flower is merely indicated by chiselled touches on
the abandoned stone, though dampness has since laid its blossoms of
mouldy greenery upon it. On the facade, side by side with the tracery
of one window, another window presents its masses of jagged stone
carved only by the hand of time. Here, to the least artistic and the
least trained eye, is a ravishing contrast between this frontage,
where marvels throng, and the interior frontage of the chateau of
Louis XII., which is composed of a ground-floor of arcades of fairy
lightness supported by tiny columns resting at their base on a
graceful platform, and of two storeys above it, the windows of which
are carved with delightful sobriety. Beneath the arcade is a gallery,
the walls of which are painted in fresco, the ceiling also being
painted; traces can still be found of this magnificence, derived from
Italy, and testifying to the expeditions of our kings, to which the
principality of Milan then belonged.
Opposite to Francois I.'s wing was the chapel of the counts of Blois,
the facade of which is almost in harmony with the architecture of the
later dwelling of Louis XII. No words can picture the majestic
solidity of these three distinct masses of building. In spite of their
nonconformity of style, Royalty, powerful and firm, demonstrating its
dangers by the greatness of its precautions, was a bond, uniting these
three edifices, so different in character, two of which rested against
the vast hall of the States-general, towering high like a church.
Certainly, neither the simplicity nor the strength of the burgher
existence (which were depicted at the beginning of this history) in
which Art was always represented, were lacking to this royal
habitation. Blois was the fruitful and brilliant example to which the
Bourgeoisie and Feudality, Wealth and Nobility, gave such splendid
replies in the towns and in the rural regions. Imagination could not
desire any other sort of dwelling for the prince who reigned over
France in the sixteenth century. The richness of seignorial garments,
the luxury of female adornment, must have harmonized delightfully with
the lace-work of these stones so wonderfully manipulated. From floor
to floor, as the king of France went up the marvellous staircase of
his chateau of Blois, he could see the broad expanse of the beautiful
Loire, which brought him news of all his kingdom as it lay on either
side of the great river, two halves of a State facing each other, and
semi-rivals. If, instead of building Chambord in a barren, gloomy
plain two leagues away, Francois I. had placed it where, seventy years
later, Gaston built his palace, Versailles would never have existed,
and Blois would have become, necessarily, the capital of France.
Four Valois and Catherine de' Medici lavished their wealth on the wing
built by Francois I. at Blois. Who can look at those massive
partition-walls, the spinal column of the castle, in which are sunken
deep alcoves, secret staircases, cabinets, while they themselves
enclose halls as vast as that great council-room, the guardroom, and
the royal chambers, in which, in our day, a regiment of infantry is
comfortably lodged--who can look at all this and not be aware of the
prodigalities of Crown and court? Even if a visitor does not at once
understand how the splendor within must have corresponded with the
splendor without, the remaining vestiges of Catherine de' Medici's
cabinet, where Christophe was about to be introduced, would bear
sufficient testimony to the elegances of Art which peopled these
apartments with animated designs in which salamanders sparkled among
the wreaths, and the palette of the sixteenth century illumined the
darkest corners with its brilliant coloring. In this cabinet an
observer will still find traces of that taste for gilding which
Catherine brought with her from Italy; for the princesses of her house
loved, in the words of the author already quoted, to veneer the
castles of France with the gold earned by their ancestors in commerce,
and to hang out their wealth on the walls of their apartments.
The queen-mother occupied on the first upper floor of the apartments
of Queen Claude of France, wife of Francois I., in which may still be
seen, delicately carved, the double C accompanied by figures, purely
white, of swans and lilies, signifying /candidior candidis/--more
white than the whitest--the motto of the queen whose name began, like
that of Catherine, with a C, and which applied as well to the daughter
of Louis XII. as to the mother of the last Valois; for no suspicion,
in spite of the violence of Calvinist calumny, has tarnished the
fidelity of Catherine de' Medici to Henri II.
The queen-mother, still charged with the care of two young children
(him who was afterward Duc d'Alencon, and Marguerite, the wife of
Henri IV., the sister whom Charles IX. called Margot), had need of the
whole of the first upper floor.
The king, Francois II., and the queen, Mary Stuart, occupied, on the
second floor, the royal apartments which had formerly been those of
Francois I. and were, subsequently, those of Henri III. This floor,
like that taken by the queen-mother, is divided in two parts
throughout its whole length by the famous partition-wall, which is
more than four feet thick, against which rests the enormous walls
which separate the rooms from each other. Thus, on both floors, the
apartments are in two distinct halves. One half, to the south, looking
to the courtyard, served for public receptions and for the transaction
of business; whereas the private apartments were placed, partly to
escape the heat, to the north, overlooking the gardens, on which side
is the splendid facade with its balconies and galleries looking out
upon the open country of the Vendomois, and down upon the "Perchoir
des Bretons" and the moat, the only side of which La Fontaine speaks.
The chateau of Francois I. was, in those days, terminated by an
enormous unfinished tower which was intended to mark the colossal
angle of the building when the succeeding wing was built. Later,
Gaston took down one side of it, in order to build his palace on to
it; but he never finished the work, and the tower remained in ruins.
This royal stronghold served as a prison or dungeon, according to
As we wander to-day through the halls of this matchless chateau, so
precious to art and to history, what poet would not be haunted by
regrets, and grieved for France, at seeing the arabesques of
Catherine's boudoir /whitewashed/ and almost obliterated, by order of
the quartermaster of the barracks (this royal residence is now a
barrack) at the time of an outbreak of cholera. The panels of
Catherine's boudoir, a room of which we are about to speak, is the
last remaining relic of the rich decorations accumulated by five
artistic kings. Making our way through the labyrinth of chambers,
halls, stairways, towers, we may say to ourselves with solemn
certitude: "Here Mary Stuart cajoled her husband on behalf of the
Guises." "There, the Guises insulted Catherine." "Later, at that very
spot the second Balafre fell beneath the daggers of the avengers of
the Crown." "A century earlier, from this very window, Louis XII. made
signs to his friend Cardinal d'Amboise to come to him." "Here, on this
balcony, d'Epernon, the accomplice of Ravaillac, met Marie de' Medici,
who knew, it was said, of the proposed regicide, and allowed it to be
In the chapel, where the marriage of Henri IV. and Marguerite de
Valois took place, the sole remaining fragment of the chateau of the
counts of Blois, a regiment now makes it shoes. This wonderful
structure, in which so many styles may still be seen, so many great
deeds have been performed, is in a state of dilapidation which
disgraces France. What grief for those who love the great historic
monuments of our country to know that soon those eloquent stones will
be lost to sight and knowledge, like others at the corner of the rue
de la Vieille-Pelleterie; possibly, they will exist nowhere but in
It is necessary to remark that, in order to watch the royal court more
closely, the Guises, although they had a house of their own in the
town, which still exists, had obtained permission to occupy the upper
floor above the apartments of Louis XII., the same lodgings afterwards
occupied by the Duchesse de Nemours under the roof.
The young king, Francois II., and his bride Mary Stuart, in love with
each other like the girl and boy of sixteen which they were, had been
abruptly transferred, in the depth of winter, from the chateau de
Saint-Germain, which the Duc de Guise thought liable to attack, to the
fortress which the chateau of Blois then was, being isolated and
protected on three sides by precipices, and admirably defended as to
its entrance. The Guises, uncles of Mary Stuart, had powerful reasons
for not residing in Paris and for keeping the king and court in a
castle the whole exterior surroundings of which could easily be
watched and defended. A struggle was now beginning around the throne,
between the house of Lorraine and the house of Valois, which was
destined to end in this very chateau, twenty-eight years later, namely
in 1588, when Henri III., under the very eyes of his mother, at that
moment deeply humiliated by the Lorrains, heard fall upon the floor of
his own cabinet, the head of the boldest of all the Guises, the second
Balafre, son of that first Balafre by whom Catherine de' Medici was
now being tricked, watched, threatened, and virtually imprisoned.
This noble chateau of Blois was to Catherine de' Medici the narrowest
of prisons. On the death of her husband, who had always held her in
subjection, she expected to reign; but, on the contrary, she found
herself crushed under the thraldom of strangers, whose polished
manners were really far more brutal than those of jailers. No action
of hers could be done secretly. The women who attended her either had
lovers among the Guises or were watched by Argus eyes. These were
times when passions notably exhibited the strange effects produced in
all ages by the strong antagonism of two powerful conflicting
interests in the State. Gallantry, which served Catherine so well, was
also an auxiliary of the Guises. The Prince de Conde, the first leader
of the Reformation, was a lover of the Marechale de Saint-Andre, whose
husband was the tool of the Grand Master. The cardinal, convinced by
the affair of the Vidame de Chartres, that Catherine was more
unconquered than invulnerable as to love, was paying court to her. The
play of all these passions strangely complicated those of politics,
--making, as it were, a double game of chess, in which both parties
had to watch the head and heart of their opponent, in order to know,
when a crisis came, whether the one would betray the other.
Though she was constantly in presence of the Cardinal de Lorraine or
of Duc Francois de Guise, who both distrusted her, the closest and
ablest enemy of Catherine de' Medici was her daughter-in-law, Queen
Mary, a fair little creature, malicious as a waiting-maid, proud as a
Stuart wearing three crowns, learned as an old pedant, giddy as a
school-girl, as much in love with her husband as a courtesan is with
her lover, devoted to her uncles whom she admired, and delighted to
see the king share (at her instigation) the regard she had for them. A
mother-in-law is always a person whom the daughter-in-law is inclined
not to like; especially when she wears the crown and wishes to retain
it, which Catherine had imprudently made but too well known. Her
former position, when Diane de Poitiers had ruled Henri II., was more
tolerable than this; then at least she received the external honors
that were due to a queen, and the homage of the court. But now the
duke and the cardinal, who had none but their own minions about them,
seemed to take pleasure in abasing her. Catherine, hemmed in on all
sides by their courtiers, received, not only day by day but from hour
to hour, terrible blows to her pride and her self-love; for the Guises
were determined to treat her on the same system of repression which
the late king, her husband, had so long pursued.
The thirty-six years of anguish which were now about to desolate
France may, perhaps, be said to have begun by the scene in which the
son of the furrier of the two queens was sent on the perilous errand
which makes him the chief figure of our present Study. The danger into
which this zealous Reformer was about to fall became imminent the very
morning on which he started from the port of Beaugency for the chateau
de Blois, bearing precious documents which compromised the highest
heads of the nobility, placed in his hands by that wily partisan, the
indefatigable La Renaudie, who met him, as agreed upon, at Beaugency,
having reached that port before him.
While the tow-boat, in which Christophe now embarked floated, impelled
by a light east wind, down the river Loire the famous Cardinal de
Lorraine, and his brother the second Duc de Guise, one of the greatest
warriors of those days, were contemplating, like eagles perched on a
rocky summit, their present situation, and looking prudently about
them before striking the great blow by which they intended to kill the
Reform in France at Amboise,--an attempt renewed twelve years later in
Paris, August 24, 1572, on the feast of Saint-Bartholomew.
During the night three /seigneurs/, who each played a great part in
the twelve years' drama which followed this double plot now laid by
the Guises and also by the Reformers, had arrived at Blois from
different directions, each riding at full speed, and leaving their
horses half-dead at the postern-gate of the chateau, which was guarded
by captains and soldiers absolutely devoted to the Duc de Guise, the
idol of all warriors.
One word about that great man,--a word that must tell, in the first
instance, whence his fortunes took their rise.
His mother was Antoinette de Bourbon, great-aunt of Henri IV. Of what
avail is consanguinity? He was, at this moment, aiming at the head of
his cousin the Prince de Conde. His niece was Mary Stuart. His wife
was Anne, daughter of the Duke of Ferrara. The Grand Connetable de
Montmorency called the Duc de Guise "Monseigneur" as he would the
king,--ending his letter with "Your very humble servant." Guise, Grand
Master of the king's household, replied "Monsieur le connetable," and
signed, as he did for the Parliament, "Your very good friend."
As for the cardinal, called the transalpine pope, and his Holiness, by
Estienne, he had the whole monastic Church of France on his side, and
treated the Holy Father as an equal. Vain of his eloquence, and one of
the greatest theologians of his time, he kept incessant watch over
France and Italy by means of three religious orders who were
absolutely devoted to him, toiling day and night in his service and
serving him as spies and counsellors.
These few words will explain to what heights of power the duke and the
cardinal had attained. In spite of their wealth and the enormous
revenues of their several offices, they were so personally
disinterested, so eagerly carried away on the current of their
statesmanship, and so generous at heart, that they were always in
debt, doubtless after the manner of Caesar. When Henri III. caused the
death of the second Balafre, whose life was a menace to him, the house
of Guise was necessarily ruined. The costs of endeavoring to seize the
crown during a whole century will explain the lowered position of this
great house during the reigns of Louis XIII. and Louis XIV., when the
sudden death of MADAME told all Europe the infamous part which a
Chevalier de Lorraine had debased himself to play.
Calling themselves the heirs of the dispossessed Carolovingians, the
duke and cardinal acted with the utmost insolence towards Catherine
de' Medici, the mother-in-law of their niece. The Duchesse de Guise
spared her no mortification. This duchesse was a d'Este, and Catherine
was a Medici, the daughter of upstart Florentine merchants, whom the
sovereigns of Europe had never yet admitted into their royal
fraternity. Francois I. himself has always considered his son's
marriage with a Medici as a mesalliance, and only consented to it
under the expectation that his second son would never be dauphin.
Hence his fury when his eldest son was poisoned by the Florentine
Montecuculi. The d'Estes refused to recognize the Medici as Italian
princes. Those former merchants were in fact trying to solve the
impossible problem of maintaining a throne in the midst of republican
institutions. The title of grand-duke was only granted very tardily by
Philip the Second, king of Spain, to reward those Medici who bought it
by betraying France their benefactress, and servilely attaching
themselves to the court of Spain, which was at the very time covertly
counteracting them in Italy.
"Flatter none but your enemies," the famous saying of Catherine de'
Medici, seems to have been the political rule of life with that family
of merchant princes, in which great men were never lacking until their
destinies became great, when they fell, before their time, into that
degeneracy in which royal races and noble families are wont to end.
For three generations there had been a great Lorrain warrior and a
great Lorrain churchman; and, what is more singular, the churchmen all
bore a strong resemblance in the face to Ximenes, as did Cardinal
Richelieu in after days. These five great cardinals all had sly, mean,
and yet terrible faces; while the warriors, on the other hand, were of
that type of Basque mountaineer which we see in Henri IV. The two
Balafres, father and son, wounded and scarred in the same manner, lost
something of this type, but not the grace and affability by which, as
much as by their bravery, they won the hearts of the soldiery.
It is not useless to relate how the present Grand Master received his
wound; for it was healed by the heroic measures of a personage of our
drama,--by Ambroise Pare, the man we have already mentioned as under
obligations to Lecamus, syndic of the guild of furriers. At the siege
of Calais the duke had his face pierced through and through by a
lance, the point of which, after entering the cheek just below the
right eye, went through to the neck, below the left eye, and remained,
broken off, in the face. The duke lay dying in his tent in the midst
of universal distress, and he would have died had it not been for the
devotion and prompt courage of Ambroise Pare. "The duke is not dead,
gentlemen," he said to the weeping attendants, "but he soon will die
if I dare not treat him as I would a dead man; and I shall risk doing
so, no matter what it may cost me in the end. See!" And with that he
put his left foot on the duke's breast, took the broken wooden end of
the lance in his fingers, shook and loosened it by degrees in the
wound, and finally succeeded in drawing out the iron head, as if he
were handling a thing and not a man. Though he saved the prince by
this heroic treatment, he could not prevent the horrible scar which
gave the great soldier his nickname,--Le Balafre, the Scarred. This
name descended to the son, and for a similar reason.
Absolutely masters of Francois II., whom his wife ruled through their
mutual and excessive passion, these two great Lorrain princes, the
duke and the cardinal, were masters of France, and had no other enemy
at court than Catherine de' Medici. No great statesmen ever played a
closer or more watchful game.
The mutual position of the ambitious widow of Henri II. and the
ambitious house of Lorraine was pictured, as it were, to the eye by a
scene which took place on the terrace of the chateau de Blois very
early in the morning of the day on which Christophe Lecamus was
destined to arrive there. The queen-mother, who feigned an extreme
attachment to the Guises, had asked to be informed of the news brought
by the three /seigneurs/ coming from three different parts of the
kingdom; but she had the mortification of being courteously dismissed
by the cardinal. She then walked to the parterres which overhung the
Loire, where she was building, under the superintendence of her
astrologer, Ruggieri, an observatory, which is still standing, and
from which the eye may range over the whole landscape of that
delightful valley. The two Lorrain princes were at the other end of
the terrace, facing the Vendomois, which overlooks the upper part of
the town, the perch of the Bretons, and the postern gate of the
Catherine had deceived the two brothers by pretending to a slight
displeasure; for she was in reality very well pleased to have an
opportunity to speak to one of the three young men who had arrived in
such haste. This was a young nobleman named Chiverni, apparently a
tool of the cardinal, in reality a devoted servant of Catherine.
Catherine also counted among her devoted servants two Florentine
nobles, the Gondi; but they were so suspected by the Guises that she
dared not send them on any errand away from the court, where she kept
them, watched, it is true, in all their words and actions, but where
at least they were able to watch and study the Guises and counsel
Catherine. These two Florentines maintained in the interests of the
queen-mother another Italian, Birago,--a clever Piedmontese, who
pretended, with Chiverni, to have abandoned their mistress, and gone
over to the Guises, who encouraged their enterprises and employed them
to watch Catherine.
Chiverni had come from Paris and Ecouen. The last to arrive was
Saint-Andre, who was marshal of France and became so important that
the Guises, whose creature he was, made him the third person in the
triumvirate they formed the following year against Catherine. The
other /seigneur/ who had arrived during the night was Vieilleville,
also a creature of the Guises and a marshal of France, who was
returning from a secret mission known only to the Grand Master, who
had entrusted it to him. As for Saint-Andre, he was in charge of
military measures taken with the object of driving all Reformers under
arms into Amboise; a scheme which now formed the subject of a council
held by the duke and cardinal, Birago, Chiverni, Vieilleville, and
Saint-Andre. As the two Lorrains employed Birago, it is to be supposed
that they relied upon their own powers; for they knew of his
attachment to the queen-mother. At this singular epoch the double part
played by many of the political men of the day was well known to both
parties; they were like cards in the hands of gamblers,--the cleverest
player won the game. During this council the two brothers maintained
the most impenetrable reserve. A conversation which now took place
between Catherine and certain of her friends will explain the object
of this council, held by the Guises in the open air, in the hanging
gardens, at break of day, as if they feared to speak within the walls
of the chateau de Blois.
The queen-mother, under pretence of examining the observatory then in
process of construction, walked in that direction accompanied by the
two Gondis, glancing with a suspicious and inquisitive eye at the
group of enemies who were still standing at the farther end of the
terrace, and from whom Chiverni now detached himself to join the
queen-mother. She was then at the corner of the terrace which looks
down upon the Church of Saint-Nicholas; there, at least, there could
be no danger of the slightest overhearing. The wall of the terrace is
on a level with the towers of the church, and the Guises invariably
held their council at the farther corner of the same terrace at the
base of the great unfinished keep or dungeon,--going and returning
between the Perchoir des Bretons and the gallery by the bridge which
joined them to the gardens. No one was within sight. Chiverni raised
the hand of the queen-mother to kiss it, and as he did so he slipped a
little note from his hand to hers, without being observed by the two
Italians. Catherine turned to the angle of the parapet and read as
You are powerful enough to hold the balance between the leaders
and to force them into a struggle as to who shall serve you; your
house is full of kings, and you have nothing to fear from the
Lorrains or the Bourbons provided you pit them one against the
other, for both are striving to snatch the crown from your
children. Be the mistress and not the servant of your counsellors;
support them, in turn, one against the other, or the kingdom will
go from bad to worse, and mighty wars may come of it.
The queen put the letter in the hollow of her corset, resolving to
burn it as soon as she was alone.
"When did you see him?" she asked Chiverni.
"On my way back from visiting the Connetable, at Melun, where I met
him with the Duchesse de Berry, whom he was most impatient to convey
to Savoie, that he might return here and open the eyes of the
chancellor Olivier, who is now completely duped by the Lorrains. As
soon as Monsieur l'Hopital saw the true object of the Guises he
determined to support your interests. That is why he is so anxious to
get here and give you his vote at the councils."
"Is he sincere?" asked Catherine. "You know very well that if the
Lorrains have put him in the council it is that he may help them to
"L'Hopital is a Frenchman who comes of too good a stock not to be
honest and sincere," said Chiverni; "Besides, his note is a
sufficiently strong pledge."
"What answer did the Connetable send to the Guises?"
"He replied that he was the servant of the king and would await his
orders. On receiving that answer the cardinal, to suppress all
resistance, determined to propose the appointment of his brother as
lieutenant-general of the kingdom."
"Have they got as far as that?" exclaimed Catherine, alarmed. "Well,
did Monsieur l'Hopital send me no other message?"
"He told me to say to you, madame, that you alone could stand between
the Crown and the Guises."
"Does he think that I ought to use the Huguenots as a weapon?"
"Ah! madame," cried Chiverni, surprised at such astuteness, "we never
dreamed of casting you into such difficulties."
"Does he know the position I am in?" asked the queen, calmly.
"Very nearly. He thinks you were duped after the death of the king
into accepting that castle on Madame Diane's overthrow. The Guises
consider themselves released toward the queen by having satisfied the
"Yes," said the queen, looking at the two Gondi, "I made a blunder."
"A blunder of the gods," replied Charles de Gondi.
"Gentlemen," said Catherine, "if I go over openly to the Reformers I
shall become the slave of a party."
"Madame," said Chiverni, eagerly, "I approve entirely of your meaning.
You must use them, but not serve them."
"Though your support does, undoubtedly, for the time being lie there,"
said Charles de Gondi, "we must not conceal from ourselves that
success and defeat are both equally perilous."
"I know it," said the queen; "a single false step would be a pretext
on which the Guises would seize at once to get rid of me."
"The niece of a Pope, the mother of four Valois, a queen of France,
the widow of the most ardent persecutor of the Huguenots, an Italian
Catholic, the aunt of Leo X.,--can /she/ ally herself with the
Reformation?" asked Charles de Gondi.
"But," said his brother Albert, "if she seconds the Guises does she
not play into the hands of a usurpation? We have to do with men who
see a crown to seize in the coming struggle between Catholicism and
Reform. It is possible to support the Reformers without abjuring."
"Reflect, madame, that your family, which ought to have been wholly
devoted to the king of France, is at this moment the servant of the
king of Spain; and to-morrow it will be that of the Reformation if the
Reformation could make a king of the Duke of Florence."
"I am certainly disposed to lend a hand, for a time, to the
Huguenots," said Catherine, "if only to revenge myself on that soldier
and that priest and that woman!" As she spoke, she called attention
with her subtile Italian glance to the duke and cardinal, and then to
the second floor of the chateau on which were the apartments of her
son and Mary Stuart. "That trio has taken from my hands the reins of
State, for which I waited long while the old woman filled my place,"
she said gloomily, glancing toward Chenonceaux, the chateau she had
lately exchanged with Diane de Poitiers against that of Chaumont.
"/Ma/," she added in Italian, "it seems that these reforming gentry in
Geneva have not the wit to address themselves to me; and, on my
conscience, I cannot go to them. Not one of you would dare to risk
carrying them a message!" She stamped her foot. "I did hope you would
have met the cripple at Ecouen--/he/ has sense," she said to Chiverni.
"The Prince de Conde was there, madame," said Chiverni, "but he could
not persuade the Connetable to join him. Monsieur de Montmorency wants
to overthrow the Guises, who have sent him into exile, but he will not
"What will ever break these individual wills which are forever
thwarting royalty? God's truth!" exclaimed the queen, "the great
nobles must be made to destroy each other, as Louis XI., the greatest
of your kings, did with those of his time. There are four or five
parties now in this kingdom, and the weakest of them is that of my
"The Reformation is an /idea/," said Charles de Gondi; "the parties
that Louis XI. crushed were moved by self-interests only."
"Ideas are behind selfish interests," replied Chiverni. "Under Louis
XI. the idea was the great Fiefs--"
"Make heresy an axe," said Albert de Gondi, "and you will escape the
odium of executions."
"Ah!" cried the queen, "but I am ignorant of the strength and also of
the plans of the Reformers; and I have no safe way of communicating
with them. If I were detected in any manoeuvre of that kind, either by
the queen, who watches me like an infant in a cradle, or by those two
jailers over there, I should be banished from France and sent back to
Florence with a terrible escort, commanded by Guise minions. Thank
you, no, my daughter-in-law!--but I wish /you/ the fate of being a
prisoner in your own home, that you may know what you have made me
"Their plans!" exclaimed Chiverni; "the duke and the cardinal know
what they are, but those two foxes will not divulge them. If you could
induce them to do so, madame, I would sacrifice myself for your sake
and come to an understanding with the Prince de Conde."
"How much of the Guises' own plans have they been forced to reveal to
you?" asked the queen, with a glance at the two brothers.
"Monsieur de Vieilleville and Monsieur de Saint-Andre have just
received fresh orders, the nature of which is concealed from us; but I
think the duke is intending to concentrate his best troops on the left
bank. Within a few days you will all be moved to Amboise. The duke has
been studying the position from this terrace and decides that Blois is
not a propitious spot for his secret schemes. What can he want
better?" added Chiverni, pointing to the precipices which surrounded
the chateau. "There is no place in the world where the court is more
secure from attack than it is here."
"Abdicate or reign," said Albert in a low voice to the queen, who
stood motionless and thoughtful.
A terrible expression of inward rage passed over the fine ivory face
of Catherine de' Medici, who was not yet forty years old, though she
had lived for twenty-six years at the court of France,--without power,
she, who from the moment of her arrival intended to play a leading
part! Then, in her native language, the language of Dante, these
terrible words came slowly from her lips:--
"Nothing so long as that son lives!--His little wife bewitches him,"
she added after a pause.
Catherine's exclamation was inspired by a prophecy which had been made
to her a few days earlier at the chateau de Chaumont on the opposite
bank of the river; where she had been taken by Ruggieri, her
astrologer, to obtain information as to the lives of her four children
from a celebrated female seer, secretly brought there by Nostradamus
(chief among the physicians of that great sixteenth century) who
practised, like the Ruggieri, the Cardans, Paracelsus, and others, the
occult sciences. This woman, whose name and life have eluded history,
foretold one year as the length of Francois's reign.
"Give me your opinion on all this," said Catherine to Chiverni.
"We shall have a battle," replied the prudent courtier. "The king of
"Oh! say the queen," interrupted Catherine.
"True, the queen," said Chiverni, smiling, "the queen has given the
Prince de Conde as leader to the Reformers, and he, in his position of
younger son, can venture all; consequently the cardinal talks of
ordering him here."
"If he comes," cried the queen, "I am saved!"
Thus the leaders of the great movement of the Reformation in France
were justified in hoping for an ally in Catherine de' Medici.
"There is one thing to be considered," said the queen. "The Bourbons
may fool the Huguenots and the Sieurs Calvin and de Beze may fool the
Bourbons, but are we strong enough to fool Huguenots, Bourbons, and
Guises? In presence of three such enemies it is allowable to feel
"But they have not the king," said Albert de Gondi. "You will always
triumph, having the king on your side."
"/Maladetta Maria/!" muttered Catherine between her teeth.
"The Lorrains are, even now, endeavoring to turn the burghers against
you," remarked Birago.
The hope of gaining the crown was not the result of a premeditated
plan in the minds of the restless Guises. Nothing warranted such a
hope or such a plan. Circumstances alone inspired their audacity. The
two cardinals and the two Balafres were four ambitious minds, superior
in talents to all the other politicians who surrounded them. This
family was never really brought low except by Henri IV.; a factionist
himself, trained in the great school of which Catherine and the Guises
were masters,--by whose lessons he had profited but too well.
At this moment the two brothers, the duke and cardinal, were the
arbiters of the greatest revolution attempted in Europe since that of
Henry VIII. in England, which was the direct consequence of the
invention of printing. Adversaries to the Reformation, they meant to
stifle it, power being in their hands. But their opponent, Calvin,
though less famous than Luther, was far the stronger of the two.
Calvin saw government where Luther saw dogma only. While the stout
beer-drinker and amorous German fought with the devil and flung an
inkbottle at his head, the man from Picardy, a sickly celibate, made
plans of campaign, directed battles, armed princes, and roused whole
peoples by sowing republican doctrines in the hearts of the burghers
--recouping his continual defeats in the field by fresh progress in
the mind of the nations.
The Cardinal de Lorraine and the Duc de Guise, like Philip the Second
and the Duke of Alba, knew where and when the monarchy was threatened,
and how close the alliance ought to be between Catholicism and
Royalty. Charles the Fifth, drunk with the wine of Charlemagne's cup,
believing too blindly in the strength of his monarchy, and confident
of sharing the world with Suleiman, did not at first feel the blow at
his head; but no sooner had Cardinal Granvelle made him aware of the
extent of the wound than he abdicated. The Guises had but one scheme,
--that of annihilating heresy at a single blow. This blow they were
now to attempt, for the first time, to strike at Amboise;
failing there they tried it again, twelve years later, at the
Saint-Bartholomew,--on the latter occasion in conjunction with
Catherine de' Medici, enlightened by that time by the flames of a
twelve years' war, enlightened above all by the significant word
"republic," uttered later and printed by the writers of the Reformation,
but already foreseen (as we have said before) by Lecamus, that type of
the Parisian bourgeoisie.
The two Guises, now on the point of striking a murderous blow at the
heart of the French nobility, in order to separate it once for all
from a religious party whose triumph would be its ruin, still stood
together on the terrace, concerting as to the best means of revealing
their coup-d'Etat to the king, while Catherine was talking with her
"Jeanne d'Albret knew what she was about when she declared herself
protectress of the Huguenots! She has a battering-ram in the
Reformation, and she knows how to use it," said the duke, who fathomed
the deep designs of the Queen of Navarre, one of the great minds of
"Theodore de Beze is now at Nerac," remarked the cardinal, "after
first going to Geneva to take Calvin's orders."
"What men these burghers know how to find!" exclaimed the duke.
"Ah! we have none on our side of the quality of La Renaudie!" cried
the cardinal. "He is a true Catiline."
"Such men always act for their own interests," replied the duke.
"Didn't I fathom La Renaudie? I loaded him with favors; I helped him
to escape when he was condemned by the parliament of Bourgogne; I
brought him back from exile by obtaining a revision of his sentence; I
intended to do far more for him; and all the while he was plotting a
diabolical conspiracy against us! That rascal has united the
Protestants of Germany with the heretics of France by reconciling the
differences that grew up between the dogmas of Luther and those of
Calvin. He has brought the discontented great seigneurs into the party
of the Reformation without obliging them to abjure Catholicism openly.
For the last year he has had thirty captains under him! He is
everywhere at once,--at Lyon, in Languedoc, at Nantes! It was he who
drew up those minutes of a consultation which were hawked about all
Germany, in which the theologians declared that force might be
resorted to in order to withdraw the king from our rule and tutelage;
the paper is now being circulated from town to town. Wherever we look
for him we never find him! And yet I have never done him anything but
good! It comes to this, that we must now either thrash him like a dog,
or try to throw him a golden bridge by which he will cross into our
"Bretagne, Languedoc, in fact the whole kingdom is in league to deal
us a mortal blow," said the cardinal. "After the fete was over
yesterday I spent the rest of the night in reading the reports sent me
by the monks; in which I found that the only persons who have
compromised themselves are poor gentlemen, artisans, as to whom it
doesn't signify whether you hang them or let them live. The Colignys
and Condes do not show their hand as yet, though they hold the threads
of the whole conspiracy."
"Yes," replied the duke, "and, therefore, as soon as that lawyer
Avenelles sold the secret of the plot, I told Braguelonne to let the
conspirators carry it out. They have no suspicion that we know it;
they are so sure of surprising us that the leaders may possibly show
themselves then. My advice is to allow ourselves to be beaten for
"Half an hour would be too much," cried the cardinal, alarmed.
"So this is your courage, is it?" retorted the Balafre.
The cardinal, quite unmoved, replied: "Whether the Prince de Conde is
compromised or not, if we are certain that he is the leader, we should
strike him down at once and secure tranquillity. We need judges rather
than soldiers for this business--and judges are never lacking. Victory
is always more certain in the parliament than on the field, and it
"I consent, willingly," said the duke; "but do you think the Prince de
Conde is powerful enough to inspire, himself alone, the audacity of
those who are making this first attack upon us? Isn't there, behind
"The king of Navarre," said the cardinal.
"Pooh! a fool who speaks to me cap in hand!" replied the duke. "The
coquetries of that Florentine woman seem to blind your eyes--"
"Oh! as for that," exclaimed the priest, "if I do play the gallant
with her it is only that I may read to the bottom of her heart."
"She has no heart," said the duke, sharply; "she is even more
ambitious than you and I."
"You are a brave soldier," said the cardinal; "but, believe me, I
distance you in this matter. I have had Catherine watched by Mary
Stuart long before you even suspected her. She has no more religion
than my shoe; if she is not the soul of this plot it is not for want
of will. But we shall now be able to test her on the scene itself, and
find out then how she stands by us. Up to this time, however, I am
certain she has held no communication whatever with the heretics."
"Well, it is time now to reveal the whole plot to the king, and to the
queen-mother, who, you say, knows nothing of it,--that is the sole
proof of her innocence; perhaps the conspirators have waited till the
last moment, expecting to dazzle her with the probabilities of
success. La Renaudie must soon discover by my arrangements that we are
warned. Last night Nemours was to follow detachments of the Reformers
who are pouring in along the cross-roads, and the conspirators will be
forced to attack us at Amboise, which place I intend to let them
enter. Here," added the duke, pointing to three sides of the rock on
which the chateau de Blois is built; "we should have an assault
without any result; the Huguenots could come and go at will. Blois is
an open hall with four entrances; whereas Amboise is a sack with a
"I shall not leave Catherine's side," said the cardinal.
"We have made a blunder," remarked the duke, who was playing with his
dagger, tossing it into the air and catching it by the hilt. "We ought
to have treated her as we did the Reformers,--given her complete
freedom of action and caught her in the act."
The cardinal looked at his brother for an instant and shook his head.
"What does Pardaillan want?" said the duke, observing the approach of
the young nobleman who was later to become celebrated by his encounter
with La Renaudie, in which they both lost their lives.
"Monseigneur, a man sent by the queen's furrier is at the gate, and
says he has an ermine suit to convey to her. Am I to let him enter?"
"Ah! yes,--the ermine coat she spoke of yesterday," returned the
cardinal; "let the shop-fellow pass; she will want the garment for the
voyage down the Loire."
"How did he get here without being stopped until he reached the gate?"
asked the duke.
"I do not know," replied Pardaillan.
"I'll ask to see him when he is with the queen," thought the Balafre.
"Let him wait in the /salle des gardes/," he said aloud. "Is he young,
"Yes, monseigneur; he says he is a son of Lecamus the furrier."
"Lecamus is a good Catholic," remarked the cardinal, who, like his
brother the duke, was endowed with Caesar's memory. "The rector of
Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs relies upon him; he is the provost of that
"Nevertheless," said the duke, "make the son talk with the captain of
the Scotch guard," laying an emphasis on the verb which was readily
understood. "Ambroise is in the chateau; he can tell us whether the
fellow is really the son of Lecamus, for the old man did him good
service in times past. Send for Ambroise Pare."
It was at this moment that Queen Catherine went, unattended, toward
the two brothers, who hastened to meet her with their accustomed show
of respect, in which the Italian princess detected constant irony.
"Messieurs," she said, "will you deign to inform me of what is about
to take place? Is the widow of your former master of less importance
in your esteem than the Sieurs Vieilleville, Birago, and Chiverni?"
"Madame," replied the cardinal, in a tone of gallantry, "our duty as
men, taking precedence of that of statecraft, forbids us to alarm the
fair sex by false reports. But this morning there is indeed good
reason to confer with you on the affairs of the country. You must
excuse my brother for having already given orders to the gentlemen you
mention,--orders which were purely military, and therefore did not
concern you; the matters of real importance are still to be decided.
If you are willing, we will now go the /lever/ of the king and queen;
it is nearly time."
"But what is all this, Monsieur le duc?" cried Catherine, pretending
alarm. "Is anything the matter?"
"The Reformation, madame, is no longer a mere heresy; it is a party,
which has taken arms and is coming here to snatch the king away from
Catherine, the cardinal, the duke, and the three gentlemen made their
way to the staircase through the gallery, which was crowded with
courtiers who, being off duty, no longer had the right of entrance to
the royal apartments, and stood in two hedges on either side. Gondi,
who watched them while the queen-mother talked with the Lorraine
princes, whispered in her ear, in good Tuscan, two words which
afterwards became proverbs,--words which are the keynote to one aspect
of her regal character: "Odiate e aspettate"--"Hate and wait."
Pardaillan, who had gone to order the officer of the guard at the gate
of the chateau to let the clerk of the queen's furrier enter, found
Christophe open-mouthed before the portal, staring at the facade built
by the good king Louis XII., on which there was at that time a much
greater number of grotesque carvings than we see there to-day,
--grotesque, that is to say, if we may judge by those that remain to us.
For instance, persons curious in such matters may remark the figurine
of a woman carved on the capital of one of the portal columns, with
her robe caught up to show to a stout monk crouching in the capital of
the corresponding column "that which Brunelle showed to Marphise";
while above this portal stood, at the time of which we write, the
statue of Louis XII. Several of the window-casings of this facade,
carved in the same style, and now, unfortunately, destroyed, amused,
or seemed to amuse Christophe, on whom the arquebusiers of the guard
were raining jests.
"He would like to live there," said the sub-corporal, playing with the
cartridges of his weapon, which were prepared for use in the shape of
little sugar-loaves, and slung to the baldricks of the men.
"Hey, Parisian!" said another; "you never saw the like of that, did
"He recognizes the good King Louis XII.," said a third.
Christophe pretended not to hear, and tried to exaggerate his
amazement, the result being that his silly attitude and his behavior
before the guard proved an excellent passport to the eyes of
"The queen has not yet risen," said the young captain; "come and wait
for her in the /salle des gardes/."
Christophe followed Pardaillan rather slowly. On the way he stopped to
admire the pretty gallery in the form of an arcade, where the
courtiers of Louis XII. awaited the reception-hour when it rained, and
where, at the present moment, were several seigneurs attached to the
Guises; for the staircase (so well preserved to the present day) which
led to their apartments is at the end of this gallery in a tower, the
architecture of which commends itself to the admiration of intelligent
"Well, well! did you come here to study the carving of images?" cried
Pardaillan, as Christophe stopped before the charming sculptures of
the balustrade which unites, or, if you prefer it, separates the
columns of each arcade.
Christophe followed the young officer to the grand staircase, not
without a glance of ecstasy at the semi-Moorish tower. The weather was
fine, and the court was crowded with staff-officers and seigneurs,
talking together in little groups,--their dazzling uniforms and
court-dresses brightening a spot which the marvels of architecture,
then fresh and new, had already made so brilliant.
"Come in here," said Pardaillan, making Lecamus a sign to follow him
through a carved wooden door leading to the second floor, which the
door-keeper opened on recognizing the young officer.
It is easy to imagine Christophe's amazement as he entered the great
/salle des gardes/, then so vast that military necessity has since
divided it by a partition into two chambers. It occupied on the second
floor (that of the king), as did the corresponding hall on the first
floor (that of the queen-mother), one third of the whole front of the
chateau facing the courtyard; and it was lighted by two windows to
right and two to left of the tower in which the famous staircase winds
up. The young captain went to the door of the royal chamber, which
opened upon this vast hall, and told one of the two pages on duty to
inform Madame Dayelles, the queen's bedchamber woman, that the furrier
was in the hall with her surcoat.
On a sign from Pardaillan Christophe placed himself near an officer,
who was seated on a stool at the corner of a fireplace as large as his
father's whole shop, which was at the end of the great hall, opposite
to a precisely similar fireplace at the other end. While talking to
this officer, a lieutenant, he contrived to interest him with an
account of the stagnation of trade. Christophe seemed so thoroughly a
shopkeeper that the officer imparted that conviction to the captain of
the Scotch guard, who came in from the courtyard to question Lecamus,
all the while watching him covertly and narrowly.
However much Christophe Lecamus had been warned, it was impossible for
him to really apprehend the cold ferocity of the interests between
which Chaudieu had slipped him. To an observer of this scene, who had
known the secrets of it as the historian understands it in the light
of to-day, there was indeed cause to tremble for this young man,--the
hope of two families,--thrust between those powerful and pitiless
machines, Catherine and the Guises. But do courageous beings, as a
rule, measure the full extent of their dangers? By the way in which
the port of Blois, the chateau, and the town were guarded, Christophe
was prepared to find spies and traps everywhere; and he therefore
resolved to conceal the importance of his mission and the tension of
his mind under the empty-headed and shopkeeping appearance with which
he presented himself to the eyes of young Pardaillan, the officer of
the guard, and the Scottish captain.
The agitation which, in a royal castle, always attends the hour of the
king's rising, was beginning to show itself. The great lords, whose
horses, pages, or grooms remained in the outer courtyard,--for no one,
except the king and the queens, had the right to enter the inner
courtyard on horseback,--were mounting by groups the magnificent
staircase, and filling by degrees the vast hall, the beams of which
are now stripped of the decorations that then adorned them. Miserable
little red tiles have replaced the ingenious mosaics of the floors;
and the thick walls, then draped with the crown tapestries and glowing
with all the arts of that unique period of the splendors of humanity,
are now denuded and whitewashed! Reformers and Catholics were pressing
in to hear the news and to watch faces, quite as much as to pay their
duty to the king. Francois II.'s excessive love for Mary Stuart, to
which neither the queen-mother nor the Guises made any opposition, and
the politic compliance of Mary Stuart herself, deprived the king of
all regal power. At seventeen years of age he knew nothing of royalty
but its pleasures, or of marriage beyond the indulgence of first
passion. As a matter of fact, all present paid their court to Queen
Mary and to her uncles, the Cardinal de Lorraine and the Duc de Guise,
rather than to the king.
This stir took place before Christophe, who watched the arrival of
each new personage with natural eagerness. A magnificent portiere, on
either side of which stood two pages and two soldiers of the Scotch
guard, then on duty, showed him the entrance to the royal chamber,
--the chamber so fatal to the son of the present Duc de Guise, the
second Balafre, who fell at the foot of the bed now occupied by Mary
Stuart and Francois II. The queen's maids of honor surrounded the
fireplace opposite to that where Christophe was being "talked with" by
the captain of the guard. This second fireplace was considered the
/chimney of honor/. It was built in the thick wall of the Salle de
Conseil, between the door of the royal chamber and that of the
council-hall, so that the maids of honor and the lords in waiting who
had the right to be there were on the direct passage of the king and
queen. The courtiers were certain on this occasion of seeing
Catherine, for her maids of honor, dressed like the rest of the court
ladies, in black, came up the staircase from the queen-mother's
apartment, and took their places, marshalled by the Comtesse de
Fiesque, on the side toward the council-hall and opposite to the maids
of honor of the young queen, led by the Duchesse de Guise, who
occupied the other side of the fireplace on the side of the royal
bedroom. The courtiers left an open space between the ranks of these
young ladies (who all belonged to the first families of the kingdom),
which none but the greatest lords had the right to enter. The Comtesse
de Fiesque and the Duchesse de Guise were, in virtue of their office,
seated in the midst of these noble maids, who were all standing.
The first gentleman who approached the dangerous ranks was the Duc
d'Orleans, the king's brother, who had come down from his apartment on
the third floor, accompanied by Monsieur de Cypierre, his governor.
This young prince, destined before the end of the year to reign under
the title of Charles IX., was only ten years old and extremely timid.
The Duc d'Anjou and the Duc d'Alencon, his younger brothers, also the
Princesse Marguerite, afterwards the wife of Henri IV. (la Reine
Margot), were too young to come to court, and were therefore kept by
their mother in her own apartments. The Duc d'Orleans, richly dressed
after the fashion of the times, in silken trunk-hose, a close-fitting
jacket of cloth of gold embroidered with black flowers, and a little
mantle of embroidered velvet, all black, for he still wore mourning
for his father, bowed to the two ladies of honor and took his place
beside his mother's maids. Already full of antipathy for the adherents
of the house of Guise, he replied coldly to the remarks of the duchess
and leaned his arm on the back of the chair of the Comtesse de
Fiesque. His governor, Monsieur de Cypierre, one of the noblest
characters of that day, stood beside him like a shield. Amyot
(afterwards Bishop of Auxerre and translator of Plutarch), in the
simple soutane of an abbe, also accompanied the young prince, being
his tutor, as he was of the two other princes, whose affection became
so profitable to him.
Between the "chimney of honor" and the other chimney at the end of the
hall, around which were grouped the guards, their captain, a few
courtiers, and Christophe carrying his box of furs, the Chancellor
Olivier, protector and predecessor of l'Hopital, in the robes which
the chancellors of France have always worn, was walking up and down
with the Cardinal de Tournon, who had recently returned from Rome. The
pair were exchanging a few whispered sentences in the midst of great
attention from the lords of the court, massed against the wall which
separated the /salle des gardes/ from the royal bedroom, like a living
tapestry backed by the rich tapestry of art crowded by a thousand
personages. In spite of the present grave events, the court presented
the appearance of all courts in all lands, at all epochs, and in the
midst of the greatest dangers. The courtiers talked of trivial
matters, thinking of serious ones; they jested as they studied faces,
and apparently concerned themselves about love and the marriage of
rich heiresses amid the bloodiest catastrophes.
"What did you think of yesterday's fete?" asked Bourdeilles, seigneur
of Brantome, approaching Mademoiselle de Piennes, one of the
queen-mother's maids of honor.
"Messieurs du Baif et du Bellay were inspired with delightful ideas,"
she replied, indicating the organizers of the fete, who were standing
near. "I thought it all in the worst taste," she added in a low voice.
"You had no part to play in it, I think?" remarked Mademoiselle de
Lewiston from the opposite ranks of Queen Mary's maids.
"What are you reading there, madame?" asked Amyot of the Comtesse de
"'Amadis de Gaule,' by the Seigneur des Essarts, commissary in
ordinary to the king's artillery," she replied.
"A charming work," remarked the beautiful girl who was afterwards so
celebrated under the name of Fosseuse when she was lady of honor to
Queen Marguerite of Navarre.
"The style is a novelty in form," said Amyot. "Do you accept such
barbarisms?" he added, addressing Brantome.
"They please the ladies, you know," said Brantome, crossing over to
the Duchesse de Guise, who held the "Decamerone" in her hand. "Some of
the women of your house must appear in the book, madame," he said. "It
is a pity that the Sieur Boccaccio did not live in our day; he would
have known plenty of ladies to swell his volume--"
"How shrewd that Monsieur de Brantome is," said the beautiful
Mademoiselle de Limueil to the Comtesse de Fiesque; "he came to us
first, but he means to remain in the Guise quarters."
"Hush!" said Madame de Fiesque glancing at the beautiful Limueil.
"Attend to what concerns yourself."
The young girl turned her eyes to the door. She was expecting Sardini,
a noble Italian, with whom the queen-mother, her relative, married her
after an "accident" which happened in the dressing-room of Catherine
de' Medici herself; but which the young lady won the honor of having a
queen as midwife.
"By the holy Alipantin! Mademoiselle Davila seems to me prettier and
prettier every morning," said Monsieur de Robertet, secretary of
State, bowing to the ladies of the queen-mother.
The arrival of the secretary of State made no commotion whatever,
though his office was precisely what that of a minister is in these
"If you really think so, monsieur," said the beauty, "lend me the
squib which was written against the Messieurs de Guise; I know it was
lent to you."
"It is no longer in my possession," replied the secretary, turning
round to bow to the Duchesse de Guise.
"I have it," said the Comte de Grammont to Mademoiselle Davila, "but I
will give it you on one condition only."
"Condition! fie!" exclaimed Madame de Fiesque.
"You don't know what it is," replied Grammont.
"Oh! it is easy to guess," remarked la Limueil.
The Italian custom of calling ladies, as peasants call their wives,
"/la/ Such-a-one" was then the fashion at the court of France.
"You are mistaken," said the count, hastily, "the matter is simply to
give a letter from my cousin de Jarnac to one of the maids on the
other side, Mademoiselle de Matha."
"You must not compromise my young ladies," said the Comtesse de
Fiesque. "I will deliver the letter myself.--Do you know what is
happening in Flanders?" she continued, turning to the Cardinal de
Tournon. "It seems that Monsieur d'Egmont is given to surprises."
"He and the Prince of Orange," remarked Cypierre, with a significant
shrug of his shoulders.
"The Duke of Alba and Cardinal Granvelle are going there, are they
not, monsieur?" said Amyot to the Cardinal de Tournon, who remained
standing, gloomy and anxious between the opposing groups after his
conversation with the chancellor.
"Happily we are at peace; we need only conquer heresy on the stage,"
remarked the young Duc d'Orleans, alluding to a part he had played the
night before,--that of a knight subduing a hydra which bore upon its
foreheads the word "Reformation."
Catherine de' Medici, agreeing in this with her daughter-in-law, had
allowed a theatre to be made of the great hall (afterwards arranged
for the Parliament of Blois), which, as we have already said,
connected the chateau of Francois I. with that of Louis XII.
The cardinal made no answer to Amyot's question, but resumed his walk
through the centre of the hall, talking in low tones with Monsieur de
Robertet and the chancellor. Many persons are ignorant of the
difficulties which secretaries of State (subsequently called
ministers) met with at the first establishment of their office, and
how much trouble the kings of France had in creating it. At this epoch